Pain and training – The Canary in the Coal Mine

  • Low-back pain
  • Neck/trap pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Joint pain

Do you have any of these recurring issues? Have you ever had to stop training because the pain was so bad? Did you get hurt while working out? Did you see a physical therapist or a doctor and find structurally, there was nothing wrong?

The more experience I get as a trainer, I am learning more and more that what happens outside of the gym is a tremendous factor on what happens in the gym. Work stress, family stress, moving, parenting, etc. There are so many things pulling us in directions that we can’t manage all of them perfectly.

I’m learning to listen to my clients more. And you need to listen to yourself more.

Historically if someone had low back pain, I’d progress to a movement screen, strengthen the core, and let’s go.

But what if that nagging injury is your body’s ‘canary in the coal mine?’ A warning that there is too much going on in life right now. What if we learned to listen to that canary? What does that look like?

It’s going to be different for everyone, but it may mean taking a day-off from your program, or regulating the difficulty of the given program. Or changing the workouts entirely. But it really shouldn’t mean “don’t workout for a week.”

The other side might include trying to find some whitespace for yourself. Schedule a day off, tell people around you that you are burning out and need some help. Usually if we pull back just enough, the pain will subside and we can get back to what we want to do.

I see people do the opposite of pulling back, they push through. Then that canary dies and they may actually get hurt. I also see the opposite of pushing-through – just giving up. Take a month off until the pain goes away.

I guess this is another way to tackle the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. But often it’s the scaled back workouts that keep us in the game that have the biggest value. You can always throttle down when things are good and ease up when things are rough.

It’s a skill that takes practice, but listen to your canary.

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